Michael Lynch's The Interregnum 1649-1660 is written for AS level students in the Access To History series. In practice it's an excellent introduction to a period of British history which saw rapid change but was essentially a triumph for the established order and the continuation of conservative policies. Much of the history of the period has been rewritten over the past forty years. Christopher Hill's Marxist interpretation of the Civil War as the rise of the bourgeoisie was already known for its failure to explain the Restoration and are now in limbo. Hill's best works, Cromwell (1970) and The World Turned Upside Down (1972) are, however, still worth reading.
Charles the First experienced difficulties with his Parliaments and did without them for eleven years using advisers such as Stafford and Archbishop Laud to impose civil and religious conformity on Britain as a whole and causing the Scots to revolt. The expense of suppressing the Scots left Charles short of funds and he was obliged to call Parliament which, under the leadership of John Pym, set about limiting royal power, Strafford and Laud paying the ultimate price for being on the wrong side.
Charles lost his throne largely because of his refusal to recognise the realities of political power. The famous triple portrait painting by van Dyke shows Charles with three faces but to his enemies he often presented more. He also lost because of the emergence of the New Model Army (NMA) which, during the second civil war, defeated the less disciplined Royalist troops which are widely thought to have lost the battle of Edgehill in 1642. The NMA contained elements who were more radical than Parliament for whom the Presbyterian model was the preferred option to Laud's Arminianism. Those favourable to the King were forcibly excluded from Parliament at the time of Pride's Purge in 1648, leaving the way for the King's execution, whether legal or not, by the Rump Parliament. That history repeats itself is echoed by Cromwell's comment that the execution of the King was "a cruel necessity", a response not dissimilar from that taken by the Bolsheviks when killing the Romanovs.
The Interregnum was not one united republic but a series of regimes held together, initially by Cromwell, supported by the Army. The removal of the king led to the emergence of radical sects such as the Diggers, Levellers, Baptists, Congregationalist, Fifth Monarchists, Muggletonians, Quakers, Seekers, Ranters and Shakers all of whom represented small but visible and vocal minorities. Millenarianism was prevalent with Fifth Monarchists claiming the republic would usher in the 1000 year reign of Jesus as recorded in the book of Revelation. Lodowick Muggleton believed he had the power to save or damn all other humans. Quakers rejected all forms of authority believing in the inner light within each person. Cromwell believed in toleration for all as a means of creating religious harmony and godly rule. It proved impossible to create godly rule amongst the ungodly.
Cromwell, whose greatness is recognised by the statute which stands outside the Palace of Westminster, was involved in a variety of wars, against the Irish, Scots, Dutch and Spanish. His reputation for savagery at Drogheda has been revised by many historians who point to the fact that he never ordered attacks on civilians. In cases where abuses had taken place Cromwell punished the miscreants swiftly. His stated objectives were to remove the political dangers presented by a Catholic Ireland and to free the people from the enslavement practiced by the Catholic Church. It was not seen that way in Ireland.
Cromwell held that there were four principles on which government should be based. A ruler and a parliament; the limitation of parliamentary terms; liberty of conscience; neither the army, nor the authority governing the army, should have absolute power. At times, particularly during the rule of the Major-Generals, it seemed as if the army did have absolute power but Cromwell, despite his refusal to accept the kingship, was highly influential (though not absolute) in how power was used. Once his influence had been removed other key elements in the power elite began to assert themselves and the reign of his son Richard was short lived. However, although Charles the Second became king (and, cynics would say, the rule of ungodly legitimised) the new king knew better than to reclaim the powers his father had inherited in 1625. The Divine Right of Kings was dead in Britain and would never be restored. The book contains many key questions, asking students to apply what they learn and the bibliography is top class. Anyone wanting to study this exciting period of history can start confidently with this five star book.